Indians decline on Sizemore, keep Carmona
Injury-plagued center fielder headed toward free agency
Not many general managers deliver their decisions on contract options in person. With Grady Sizemore, Indians GM Chris Antonetti made an exception. He's that big of a presence in Cleveland, which makes it that big of a decision.
Antonetti wasn't waving goodbye when he visited Arizona last week to deliver Sizemore the news that they were declining his $9 million option for 2012. Officially, Cleveland hasn't closed the door on his return. But by choosing a $500,000 buyout, the Indians made it clear Sizemore's presence has to fit into what they're planning for the future.
They'll keep talking over the next couple days while they hold exclusive negotiating rights, but Antonetti made it clear he doesn't expect any deal this week. Once Sizemore hits the open market, he'll have his choice of destinations. The Indians, in turn, have their options on how to replace him.
"We thought that we were best served at this point declining Grady's option," Antonetti said on a Monday afternoon conference call. "We will still stay in touch with his representatives and Grady throughout the offseason and remain hopeful he will remain part of this organization.
"I think both parties remain open-minded to continuing the relationship. It's just not at the option value."
The Indians had a slightly different decision to weigh with Fausto Carmona, the sinkerballing right-hander who lost 15 games this year but who improved as the season wore on. He wouldn't have been a free agent had Cleveland declined his $7 million option, but he would've been up for arbitration. Knowing the market, the club picked up the option.
Carmona has had his issues, but he also has his innings. And at age 27, he has a value.
"As we looked, we feel that Fausto has demonstrated he's a very durable and a valuable Major League starting pitcher," Antonetti said. "In spite of inconsistencies, we still feel he possesses all of the things necessary to be a quality Major League starter."
Sizemore, too, has the potential to be a star again, but he has to have his health. The elusiveness of that is part of the reason why the Indians had to weigh his option.
He's a three-time American League All-Star and two-time AL Gold Glove Award winner, and he has the longest Cleveland tenure of any Indians player this year aside from Travis Hafner. However, he hit .224 with 10 homers, 21 doubles and 32 RBIs in 71 games for Cleveland this past season. His last full season came in 2008, when he hit .268 with 33 homers, 38 stolen bases, 90 RBIs and 101 runs scored. It is difficult to know if Sizemore can be that type of player again.
He has had two knee surgeries -- one on each knee -- in the last year and a half, including a relatively new microfracture surgery on his left knee last year that required a 10-month rehab before his return this summer. Just when he looked like he was back, he suffered a sports hernia and a right knee injury.
He's expected to be ready for Spring Training, yet there is no denying Sizemore's problematic health history. Since 2009, he has only appeared in 210 games, or an average of 70 per season. There are 334 players who have played in more games over the same span. From 2005-08, only Ichiro Suzuki (646) played in more games than Sizemore (639) did for the Tribe.
Antonetti expressed a "profound respect" for what Sizemore has meant to the franchise and the city.
"I think baseball's a better game when Grady's on the field," Antonetti said.
At the same time, counting on that -- or at least guaranteeing that big of a salary -- is a more difficult issue.
Antonetti said he "walked through some of the rationale" behind the decision when he visited Sizemore last week.
"I think Grady remains open-minded," he said. "We had a very good conversation. He has the benefit now of getting an understanding of what the market is."
The Indians bring back Michael Brantley and Ezequiel Carrera as potential center fielders. Antonetti said they'll also "continue to explore opportunities" on the market.
They did not want to take that chance with Carmona, who will turn 28 in December. His durability is what makes his $7 million option seem relatively affordable, considering what similar pitchers can fetch on the open market, or in arbitration. The right-hander also gives the Indians an experienced layer of depth, which is important given that starter Carlos Carrasco will miss all of 2012 with a right elbow injury.
Carmona's question, of course, has been the performance over those innings, and the upside as he matures. His 5.25 ERA in 2011 marked the second-highest ERA in a single season for a pitcher with at least 32 starts in Cleveland's 111-year franchise history.
One year earlier, Carmona went 13-14 with a 3.77 ERA, turning in a respectable campaign for a 93-loss Indians team. From 2009-10, the right-hander went 13-19 with a 5.89 ERA for the Tribe, but that stretch followed his breakout 19-win showing for the AL Central champions of 2007.
"I think Fausto has rebounded from adversity in the past," Antonetti said. "I think when you look at the challenges he's had, he's certainly come back from more challenging struggles than he had this last year."
By picking up Carmona's option and trading for Derek Lowe on Monday, the Indians might well have set their likely rotation for next year when adding in Justin Masterson, Josh Tomlin and Ubaldo Jimenez. David Huff, Jeanmar Gomez and Zach McAlister also return as potential insurance starters.
The Indians also hold club options for each of the next two seasons on Carmona. Unlike this year, he could be eligible for free agency next offseason if Cleveland doesn't pick up his option.
A good chunk of the $8.5 million saved on Sizemore's option will likely help pay the raises that will be expected for the team's seven arbitration-eligible players, including outfielder Shin-Soo Choo ($3.975 million salary in 2011), closer Chris Perez ($2.225), shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera ($2.025), relievers Rafael Perez ($1.33) and Joe Smith ($870,000), along with third baseman Jack Hannahan ($500,000) and Masterson ($468,400).
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian. Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.